Today’s review is about A THOUSAND STEPS INTO NIGHT by Traci Chee, a Japanese mythology-inspired tale. Some of the characters reminded me of Studio Ghibili creations. And I loved Miuko’s wry humor coupled with her ability to never lose sight of her goal.
Author: Traci Chee
Age Category: Young Adult
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publish Date: March 1, 2022
Print Length: 384
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From bestselling and award-winning author Traci Chee comes a Japanese-inspired fantasy perfect for fans of Studio Ghibli. When a girl who’s never longed for adventure is hit with a curse that begins to transform her into a demon, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life, but along the way is forced to confront her true power within.
In the realm of Awara, where gods, monsters, and humans exist side by side, Miuko is an ordinary girl resigned to a safe, if uneventful, existence as an innkeeper’s daughter.
But when Miuko is cursed and begins to transform into a demon with a deadly touch, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life. Aided by a thieving magpie spirit and continuously thwarted by a demon prince, Miuko must outfox tricksters, escape demon hunters, and negotiate with feral gods if she wants to make it home again.
With her transformation comes power and freedom she never even dreamed of, and she’ll have to decide if saving her soul is worth trying to cram herself back into an ordinary life that no longer fits her… and perhaps never did.
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. (However, I ended up loaning it from my local library after publication.) My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
A THOUSAND STEPS INTO NIGHT was a delightful book to switch to at the start of what could have been a reading slump. Dare I say it was even charming? Right from the beginning I found myself smirking at Miuko’s wry sense of humor. How else is a girl–and a clumsy, loud one at that–supposed to deal with the ridiculous imposition of gender-based roles in a patriarchal society?
“I think you believe you ought to be small,” he said softly, almost meditatively. “I think you have been taught that greatness does not belong to you, and that to want it is perverse. I think you have folded yourself into the shape that others expect of you; but that shape does not suit you, has never suited you, and all your young life, you have been dying to be free of it.”Loc 582
“No, what she wanted were a man’s privileges, and at that moment it was abundantly clear to her that neither she nor anyone else should have to be a man to have them.”Loc 819
Miuko isn’t demure, dainty, or delicate. Neither is she fastidious or keen at bookkeeping, which would be good skills to have as an innkeeper’s daughter. But she is stubborn, kind, and caring, despite her alleged shortcomings. She tries to conform herself to society’s expectations. But it’s those same problematic personality traits others frown upon that serve her well when dealing with demons, tricksters, and gods. As Miuko travels far and wide to to stop her transformation into a demon (and save the world from a demon, of course), she realizes that despite the dangers she finally feels free.
Deeper into her journey, Miuko also observes that being a demon in the spirit world is similar to being a woman back home. No one trusts a demon or a woman. Both are assigned traits and roles to which neither want to conform. Others always judge them based on what society says they should be or do rather than by who they actually are. Basically there is an order to life and one should stay in one’s lane. But our dear Miuko tears down those walls.
There is also some non-binary gender and trans inclusion represented in a few secondary/tertiary characters. The brief history of the diversity of genders in this story mirrors ours in that recorded history recognized more than two genders. However, recent culture reduced those genders down to male, female, and hei, or “neither male nor female.” I appreciated the gender inclusivity and its matter-of-fact presentation by the characters.
I don’t really know anything about Japanese mythology, so I can’t comment on that (large) aspect of the story. However, the descriptions of the various levels of gods and other mystical creatures reminded me a lot of characters from Studio Ghibli films. They were really fun to imagine in my head, especially the feral forest god. This is also a great book if you like talking animal companions. Technically, the main companion, Geiki, is a magpie trickster. But he spends most of his time in the book in human form. I enjoyed his innocent, quirky humor that served as a nice balance to Miuko’s seriousness.
Another aspect I liked was the lack of romance. I appreciate a little (and sometimes a lot) of romance in my fantasy reads. However, it was refreshing to see its absence. My only critique is that despite the relatively fast pace of the book, sometimes it still felt like it took a while for the plot to move along. I know that doesn’t make sense, but that’s how I felt. Regardless, overall I enjoyed A THOUSAND STEPS INTO NIGHT. The writing is succinct, yet emotive, and Miuko is an admirable main character. This is a story about self discovery, honesty with oneself, and having the courage to break the mold and forge one’s own path.
Content warnings: sexism, fire
Reading format: Kindle e-book